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Report: Fracked Gas Project Could Undermine Washington’s Clean Energy Goals

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People's Climate March boat parade. Rick Rappaport

By Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky

Bill McKibben is right. Last summer, the co-founder of climate change organization 350.org penned a Rolling Stone article titled How to Tell If Your Reps Are Serious About Climate Change. One way to tell, said McKibben, is if "[t]hey understand natural gas could be the most dangerous fuel of all."


A new report from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) on a controversial fracked gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in Washington state confirms McKibben's assertion: the Kalama methanol refinery will not help us achieve a low-carbon future or meet the goals in the Paris agreement. According to the report, approving the Kalama methanol refinery "would not appear to be consistent with globally agreed climate goals of keeping warming at less than 2 degrees Celsius."

The Kalama methanol refinery—the largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery in the world—would cause the equivalent of 3.7 to 7 million tons per year of CO2 pollution, based on 20-year global warming potential. That's over half the carbon footprint of the massive coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Washington. When the Centralia coal plant closes in 2025, the Kalama methanol project would become Washington's top contributor to climate change.

Backed by the Chinese government, a company called Northwest Innovation Works proposes to refine fracked gas to liquid methanol on the banks of the Columbia River in the Twilight-famous town of Kalama, then ship the methanol to China to produce olefins, a chemical building block for plastic.

The new report casts doubt on claims that the Kalama methanol refinery would replace coal-based methanol production in China and thus benefit the climate. Researchers found that the Kalama facility is just as likely to displace more common—and less emissions-intensive—methods of making plastic. This means that "that the facility would be just as likely to increase global GHG emissions [from other sources] as to decrease them."

Researchers also found that the Kalama methanol refinery could result in emissions that are two to six times higher than estimates in the final Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS"). That's largely because the EIS left out emissions involved in supplying fracked gas to the methanol refinery. "The new analysis provides an opportunity to fix that, and consider all emission impacts in the supplemental review," said SEI senior scientist Peter Erickson, a co-author of the report.

Last fall, a Washington state hearings board ruled that the final EIS was illegal, siding with Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Earthjustice. The board ordered a new EIS that fully discloses the methanol refinery's climate impacts. A comment period for the new, climate-focused EIS is open now through Feb. 28. Click here to send in your comment.

The report should be an eye-opener for Washington Governor Jay Inslee; it allows the governor and all Washingtonians to see the true climate cost of this project. Inslee is a leader in the fight against climate change, as demonstrated by his bold commitments to the Paris agreement, state carbon reduction goals, and the introduction of a carbon pollution tax in the Washington legislature. Now Inslee can take a stand against the Kalama methanol refinery and new fracked gas infrastructure that would add stunning new greenhouse gas pollution right here at home.

Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky is the senior organizer of Columbia Riverkeeper.

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